From Green Right Now Reports
Outraged that the EPA dropped a case against a gas company that apparently contaminated private wells near Fort Worth, environmentalists from more than 80 groups in 12 states have called for an internal EPA investigation of the case.
The organizations, which include the Environmental Working Group, Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch and Frack Action as well as dozens of local anti-fracking groups, want to know why the EPA dropped a legal action against the drilling company, Range Resources Ltd., after finding in 2010 that gas drilling had caused or contributed to polluting nearby water wells with benzene and methane.
After that finding, the EPA had required Range Resources to provide water for two affected families and to monitor their homes for evidence of explosive gases.
But the agency dropped that requirement and the case against Range Resources in March 2012, with little explanation, saying only it wanted to “shift” the case away from litigation and focus on working with gas extraction companies to find safer drilling practices.
Range Resources has maintained that the well contamination in homes in Weatherford in Parker County west of Fort Worth came from naturally occurring methane gas in deposits in the Strawn formation, and cannot be attributed to its gas drilling operations in the deeper Barnett Shale.
Now six U.S. senators have asked the EPA’s inspector general to investigate and report on why the EPA dropped the case.
The environmental groups have added their voices to that call, saying that they fear the EPA caved to industry and political pressure, as a recent investigations by the Associated Press and EnergyWire have suggested.
Documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request and published on Feb. 5 by Washington, DC-based EnergyWire show that former Pennsylvania governor and former head of the Democratic National Committee Ed Rendell pressured the EPA to drop the case. Rendell was on vacation, according to an aide, and had no comment.
The EnergyWire piece also shows that EPA staff who wanted to pursue the case faced intense pressure to back down from Texas oil and gas officials who’d cleared Range Resources of culpability.
Separately, the AP reported in January that the EPA had found “extremely high levels of methane in [the] water pose an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire” at houses near the drilling site northwest of Fort Worth. The finding shows the inner conflict at the agency, which could have used the report to continue its case against Range.
The AP story reported that the EPA had hired an independent investigator who found that the water contamination likely came from nearby gas drilling; yet EPA dropped the case against Range Resources “despite the compelling evidence” against the company.
The protesting environmental and anti-fracking groups want to get to the bottom of the case. They say in their letter issued Monday:
“We want to ensure that your [EPA’s inspector general] investigation encompasses issues that have recently come to light that raise questions about EPA’s commitment to protecting the public from oil and natural gas drilling pollution.”
The local groups signing the letter represent citizens concerned about the safety of hydraulic gas fracturing in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming, California, Colorado, Maryland and New Jersey.